Julius Randle “had a feeling” about winning on New Year’s Eve

It’s been 10 years in the making, but the New York Knicks (19-18) are opening New Year with a positive record for the first time since 2013.

The Knicks defeated the Houston Rockets 108-88 on New Year’s Eve in the final game of their Texas Trip. It’s New York’s first win in six attempts as the Knicks finally broke a five-game skid after collecting eight consecutive victories earlier in December.

“It’s the nature of the league,” Tom Thibodeau said. “You win eight in a row and then you have some tough losses, last-possession-type losses,” he added.

Thibodeau might be right, but only partially. While it is true that New York lost five consecutive matchups by a combined 27 points after defeating Golden State by 38 on December 20, the truth is that the Knicks simply allowed their opponents to pull off more than one or two comebacks that ended up in losses .

“That’s part of it. How do you respond?” pondered Thibs before answering his answer by saying that “it’s really not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens to you.”

“We took a haymaker, it stinged, and then you got to bounce back. And you can’t look backwards, you got to look ahead, what’s next?” questioned the coach, again. “The games keep coming. So you want to learn, grow, and improve. Learn, grow, and improve. And just keep doing it throughout the game.”

Thibodeau closed his comments by stating that “you know throughout the season there’s going to be ups and downs, and you have to navigate it all.”

Julius Randle (35 points) and Immanuel Quickley (27) were the two men leading New York on their New Year’s Eve win over Houston (10-26), burying the Rockets even deeper (as if that was possible) in the Western Conference standings .

Saturday’s game marked the sixth in a row for Randle scoring at least 29 points and the fifth in which he’s connected at least four times from beyond the arc. Randle’s 16 free-throw attempts were a season-high for him, too.

Quickley scored in double digits for the seventh consecutive game and has now hit 27+ points on back-to-back games, including scoring five and four three-point shots in his last two outings. More impressively, though, are the number of field goal attempts launched by IQ in the last three matches: 21, 27, and finally 25 against the Rockets. His results have varied wildly, ranging from splashing 12 against the Spurs to a meager five facing Dallas on Dec. 27

Thibodeau believes Randle “just had a monster month,” and pointed out how the often-much-maligned forward is doing it all “from scoring, to passing, to rebounding.” Speaking about Quickley’s recent exploits, the coach said that he likes “what he did for our team,” not “what he did for himself.” Thibodeau made it clear: “that was really valuable for us.”

With Jalen Brunson (sore hip) and RJ Barrett (lacerated finger) still out on Saturday—it’s now three games for each if we don’t count Barrett’s two-minute cameo on Dec. 27 before exiting that matchup—the Knicks deployed a three-man backcourt featuring Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes, and Immanuel Quickley, each getting 35+ minutes of playing time.

Deuce had a night to forget going 1-of-10 from the field for a measly five points, while Quentin Grimes finished 8-of-15 from the field scoring 19 and contributing a couple of rebounds, dimes, and steals to go with a swatted shot.

“I just wanted to win more than anything. Not just because I was back home, but just because we were in a funk a little bit, a five-game losing streak,” Grimes said. “Just to end the year on a good note for when we go back home, kind of get on a run, hopefully.”

Grimes was playing basketball in Houston for the first time since entering the Association. He missed last year’s matchup in Texas with COVID symptoms. “I got to play in front of my friends and family who hadn’t seen me in an NBA jersey yet. So it was great, a lot of emotions for sure,” he said after the game.

Thibodeau was happy for Grimes and praised his performance after the game, saying that his guard “was terrific.” The Knicks coach also said that “even though Duece didn’t shoot the ball well, I thought he played a really good game too.”

“I thought the defense of Duece and Quentin was outstanding. Everyone has a role. Those guys can impact the game greatly with their defense and they usually do,” Thibodeau added.

As is his wont, New York’s coach discussed the defensive chops of the squad, saying that he thinks “our ball pressure was a lot better which led to turnovers that got us in the open floor,” before adding that, to his eyes, “ guys played very hard and very unselfishly.”

Quickley dished out seven dimes, Randle got six himself, and Grimes assisted two more baskets himself. No other Knick got more than one assist, while both Randle and Mitchell Robinson (6 points) led New York with 12 rebounds each while the latter also swatted three rocks through 33 minutes and committed three thefts.

Thibodeau used 10 men against Houston with Ryan Arcidiacono logging two minutes. Derrick Rose got 11 rounds of the clock and Evan Fournier played 20 minutes. It wasn’t an eventful and joyous evening for Cam Reddish, though, who got smacked with another DNP CD. Sheesh…

Our main man Thibs thinks “it is important” that Fournier keeps playing and scoring (he hit 20 points against Houston), and the same goes for Rose (four points). “We have a number of young guys on our team and they’re in the rotation, and so you also want to have some guys that are in the middle, and you want to have the right veterans around them so they can help,” Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau is making a concerted effort to have the Knicks’ veterans “help teach our young guys the tricks of the trade” as he thinks “that helps to speed up the (development) process.”

“I think trial and error is a big part of learning, so they have to go through things,” Thibodeau said about the younger Knickerbockers. “There’s going to be some bumps.” Simply put and according to Thibs, “having the right veterans around those young guys is very important.”

“There’s gonna be times it’s going great and then all of a sudden it can change very quickly on you and it’s going the other way. And you have to be able to handle both. So I think having the right veterans around those young guys is very important.”

“I had a feeling waking up today that things would start to turn around,” Randle said. “So hopefully we can keep this going.”

Hopefully, we can keep this going indeed. If only for a week.

The Knicks come back to New York to play the mighty Phoenix Suns (20-17) at MSG early on Monday (3:00 PM EST) before hosting San Antonio on Wednesday.

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